The Comfort of Clichés
“When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go…”
It’s a cliché one hears at a wake of someone young and in the prime of his life. It was a cliché one heard only too often in the wake of my late former business partner, Mr. Julius Yap Chua.
As some sort of online eulogy, nothing I can say will do Julius justice. But as business partners go, he was the best.
For almost six amazing years, he was the yin to my yang, or the yang to my yin, whichever it took to strike the nigh-perfect balance of personality and character the combination of us represented. We both operated differently, from opposite sides of the character spectrum. He came from a manufacturing background courtesy of their family business, Panama Plastics, better known in the market by the brand Panaware. His views as an employer were almost clearly Oriental, and his sense of scope anchored on practicality provided our partnership with a foundation of stability. On the other side, my years spent under the wing of Kenneth Quintal of the pioneering design firm Duane Quintal Associates, planted and nurtured in me a decidedly Western perspective, both as a future manager, and into the bold, if sometimes reckless frontman I would become. Where I would run the field and lead the troops into battle, Julius made sure the fort was in something I could proudly bring our spoils home to.
Together we worked hard, and we played hard. We began as business partners brought together and left behind by other erstwhile partners. We earned each other’s respect the hard way, and grew to become friends. Julius and I were practically joined at the hip, running a three-legged sack race, while still sharpening our respective horns just to let the other guy know where we both stood. But while the horns did lock, blood was never drawn.
There were times we hated each other’s guts, shook our heads and walked away. But it was just work. It was always just work. He was a friend to me in every sense of the word, a business partner to end all business partners. And best of all, he never hesitated to let me know how much he believed in me.
At the start of great times ahead (standing from left: Julius Yap Chua, Abraham Kho Tan; seated from left: the author, Miguel G. Belmonte, Miss Grace Glory Go. Circa 1998)
For what it’s worth, I will state here on record that I did not leave Montage Studios, Inc. (now Montage Advertising Corporation) because of Julius Chua. Heck, if there were a few reasons that made me lean towards staying, he was almost on the top of that list.
Then the war between Montage and what was to become Maverick began. I had never had a more worthy competitor.
I had always said that business partners are not too different from long time dates or engagements. You get it on and you get into some good times. If you’re lucky, you get a few years of good times. But when one decides that the partnership is over for whatever reason, there will sometimes be the full intent of maintaining a friendship, but somehow, the awkwardness will be hard to overcome.
I mean, the very center of your relationship is the business. You may grow to genuinely enjoy one another’s company, help each other through women troubles, drink yourselves silly just to round up a day, and even send the other guy extra cash to check himself out of a motel he slept the night through with some woman whose name he doesn’t even remember (it happened, I swear…). But when the mutual concern for the business is gone and you part ways knowing you will compete sooner or later, then yes, it gets awkward.
We started running into each other again in the Manila Jaycees where both of us apparently maintained rather active memberships. It was there that we gingerly renewed conversations, albeit in a casual manner. Testing the waters, so to speak. The waters seemed safe and even warm. It was there I found out that he had finally found a lady to commit himself to. It was also there he confirmed that he had let go of the race we had and ceased active participation in Montage. In between puffs of Marlboros, and the repetition of the open-ended invitation for an evening of women and wine like days of yore, it was also there that we quietly knew that the bonds were still there.
It was also through the Manila Jaycees that Julius and I were supposed to officially work on something together again. He volunteered to sponsor the print production of a round of newsletters to promote his new printing company, Rex Magnus. I was spitting out the design. I was looking forward to it. I was looking forward to working with my old partner again.
A handful of weeks after, I received the calls late at night from fellow Jaycees asking me about the rumor of his accident. The very next morning, I called up Susan of Panama Plastics, and she ruefully confirmed it.
Julius had a zest for life and adventure, enjoyed the company of his fellow men, enjoyed the company of beautiful women even more, and to people he called friends, he stood tall, true and he never left us out.
The cliché states that when it’s our time, it simply is. But with his pending marriage in January, a new business venture just laying groundwork, old friends whose company he still had to enjoy, and other old restarted friendships left to chart again, it was plain to see it was not the time of Julius Yap Chua. Damn the clichés and the empty comfort they desperately, but futilely bring. This is one cliché that was clearly a lie.
He taught me a lot, but the greatest lesson he gave was one friendly command in three short words that affect every major decision I’ve made in my life: “Be a man.”
Jules, I toast you. YOU are the man.
Julius Yap Chua died of a freak scuba diving accident on June 1, 2008. He was 33.